Monday, February 05, 2007

Torpedo Squadron 8: Contact with the Enemy Part Four

** Part four of eight parts.


On the evening of June 3, as the carrier snaked its way through a starry Pacific night, the pilots of Torpedo 8 filed into the ready room. Several days out from their base, they had every reason to feel that on this trip they were at last going to see the action the Skipper had trained them for. That morning, patrol planes had sighted a strong Japanese force approaching Midway in five columns, and during the day Army Flying Fortresses from Midway had attacked it, setting two ships afire.

In the ready room the Skipper handed his boys a mimeographed plan of attack and to it he appended his own final message. It ran as follows:

“Just a word to let you know that I feel we are all ready. We have had a very short time to train and we have worked under the most severe difficulties. But we have truly done the best humanly possible. I actually believe that under these conditions we are the best in the world. My greatest hope is that we encounter a favorable tactical situation, but if we don’t, and the worst comes to the worst, I want each of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only one plane left to make a final run-in, I want that man to go in and get a hit. May God be with us all. Good luck, happy landings, and give ‘em hell.”

The boys felt proud of the confidence the Skipper expressed in them. They, too, felt they were ready, and they were determined that, whatever the action, there would be more than one plane left to make the final run-in for a hit. But the message did not create any undue tension. When they were “secured,” they returned to their normal off-hours pursuits. Abbie took $45 from Jimmy Owens, White Moore and Squire Evans in a poker game. Big Jack Gray, the Columbia, Mo. Boy, went back to his quarters and mixed some Wagner with a little Glenn Miller on his electric phonograph, while Creamer, in the bunk above him, put the finishing touches on a koa-wood fruit bowl he was carving. Moose Moore read himself to sleep with a hell-for-leather, shoot-‘em-up novel of the Western plains. “Rusty” Kenyon fiddled with the cartridge cases he had started to fashion into a set of dresser lamps for his wife. Only Tex Gay had to show some concern for what the next dawn might bring. As navigation officer, he had to busy himself with getting some maps lithographed for his fellow pilots.

At 3:30 the next morning, June 4, the pilots of Torpedo 8 again gathered in the ready room, there to sit through a critical dawn. As they entered the low-ceilinged, white-walled steel room, their practiced eyes turned first toward the illuminated 3 ft.-by-3 ft. above the teletype machine. Projected from the machine below was the last message that had been received: four PBY patrol planes had made a moonlight torpedo attack on a Japanese occupation force near Midway at 1 a.m. As they settled in their comfortable leather chairs they hauled out their flight charts and copied off the data that had been chalked in the neat columns on the blackboard up front: wind, course, speed, visibility, dew point, nearest land, etc. But the teletype remained silent, and soon most of them had pushed the arm button on their chairs so that they could spend the remainder of their watch in their usual semireclining position. Whatever tension there was relaxed with them.

Life August 31, 1942

continued in post below.

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